After making her first soup at home when she was nine years old, cooking became a passion for Ebru Omurcalı. Later, luck led her to the diet and nutrition profession. Omurcalı is the supervisor chef for Turkey's National Football Team. Everything that the national team eats or drinks in camps must pass her approval and come from her hands. She has published 10 books about food and food culture. A new one just came out. With a wide selection of traditional syrups, tea varieties, various non-alcoholic fruit cocktails and special mixtures of athletic drinks, the 450-page-book, "Drinks" (İçecekler), is more encyclopedia than book with recipes and information.
Large family triggered her passion for food
Omurcalı's passion for food and food culture comes from her mother who is from Bolu and father who is originally from Rumelia. With a large family in Bolu, she got used to hosting guests at crowded tables for breakfast, tea and dinner. So, she had to become a regular in the kitchen.
"The adventure that started with fetching things from the kitchen continued with making stuffed green leaves, closing raviolis, arranging the cellar and making some dishes when I grew up a bit. In fact, my first meal was soup, and my grandmother called me 'my soup girl' because she liked it very much," said Omurgalı, recalling her first years in the family kitchen.
With her passion sparked at a very early age, Omurgalı knew she wanted to do something related to Turkish cuisine. But her academic life took her first to Istanbul University Faculty of Economics and then the Marmara University MBA (Master of Business Administration). "But my interest in good food was always too much," Omurgalı said, adding she began to take private lessons from expert chefs about 20 years ago. "These lessons are still ongoing at home and abroad."
Supervisor chef for the Turkish National Team
Her passion for food culture and nutrients and of course writing cookbooks introduced her to the Turkish National Football Team. After her book "The Book of Pasta" (Makarna'nın Kitabı) caught the attention of the directors of the team, she began to be invited to the camps regularly.
The nutritionist with Everton's Cenk Tosun.
"The first year was not easy for me. It is not easy for us to get used to each other and gain working habits in different cuisines while traveling the world. I tried not to reflect the difficulties on the team," she said.
It is important to feed qualified carbohydrates in performance sports and football. Thus, Omurcalı prepares the team's nutrition program with the health team: She is the supervisor chef responsible for feeding the team.
Explaining her job with the national team, Omurcalı said:
"We camp in Turkey and in different countries and compete throughout the year. No matter where we go, our nutrition program must continue. Wherever we go, I study the country in terms of eating and drinking culture. I learn the kitchen features and the equipment of the place where we'll stay. Then comes menu planning. The menu I plan goes through the control of our health team. The menu is sent after confirmation. If there are hard products to make on the menu, the prescription phase starts. I prepare a mini recipe book for almost every camp."
Local flavors are a must while traveling
Omurcalı includes local flavors in the diet for the footballers - as long as it does not disturb their regular diets. Omurcalı also takes advice from the head coach, as it is teamwork after all.
"I absolutely get their opinions and approval whether they have a specific plan for the team and proceed accordingly. Because the football player's nutrition plan is in a certain system, we do not have major differences in the way we work, during either the Fatih Terim or Mircea Lucescu period."
When asked whether footballers have favorite dishes or not, Omurcalı said they have but they know what to ask for and what not to ask for.
"I have worked with our football players for almost five years. I have information about what each of them loves or dislikes separately. However, they now know that their nutrition affects their success, and they are extremely careful. The pasta buffet is our pleasure. Different sauces, fresh vegetables, smoked meats, chicken and fish meet with pasta. Everyone sets the contents of the plate according to their own taste, and we enjoy it."
Travelling abroad with the team and preparing a certain program in a country where she cannot find the right ingredients for footballers means Omurcalı has larger luggage than others. Yet, she tries to limit what to take with her and mostly prefers local flavors.
"I only take white cheese, olives and Turkish coffee abroad. In many parts of the world, it is now possible to find every material. I prefer working with local ingredients and products," she added.
Memories collected at the camps
While working with the team, Omurcalı has collected many memories with footballers watched admiringly on TV and in stadiums. And the most unforgettable for Omurcalı is the event that took place in the first camp she attended.
"We were in the Bosnian camp, and we started to plan our food in the kitchen the first evening. I had a nice team, but it was my first time managing a kitchen in a different country. I could not really do it. Mealtime was approaching, and unfortunately, many things did not quite finish on time. Even the buffet could not be set up. After training, it was time for meals, and everyone would be hungry. I felt dizzy as I thought about it. When the team arrived, I could not stop crying my eyes out. I was met with great understanding even if the food did not finish on time. We finished our meal with the dishes on hand. This experience was a good lesson on what I should and should not do. That is why I never give concessions to kitchen planning."